Continuing on from yesterdays preview of the first 2 groups, we take a look at the next groups and who are likely to make their marks.
Novo Mesto Knights (Slovenia)
London Ex-Pads (UK)
Augsburg Rooks (Germany)
Utrecht Dominators (Netherlands)
TU Ilmenau Ilmroosters (Germany)
Top to bottom, this may be the toughest group in the entire tournament. The Knights were a bit of an unknown coming in last year but left a lasting impression with a 6th place finish. The Ex-Pads third semi-final finish in four years last year might have been their most impressive. With a hobbled Tariq Dag Khan and without former NFL experienced players Jon Lyon and Alex Tounkara-Kone as well as the ultra athletic Sam Barrett, the class of UK flag looked like they were in for a tough go. However, Khan showed again why he is one the best QB’s in Europe while Matt Spetzler and Steve Joiner made plays all weekend en route to another fourth place finish. With the return of Barrett and Khan at full strength, is this the year they finally break through to the final?
While absent from Big Bowl last year, Augsburg and Taureux finished 21st and 19th respectively one year prior. Augsburg is another disciplined German team that will not beat itself. Taureux though, may present the trickiest task for either of the group’s presumed top guns. As a recently combined outfit with the Spartans, they finished an impressive 4th in France after being upset in the semi-final. Going into the playoffs, they were actually the #1 seed following an impressive group-stage win over Sphinx De Pau, who would eventually win both the French League and the prestigious Champions Bowl. If Taureux can beat the likes of Sphinx, they can certainly run with anyone at this tournament. While I don’t expect the Dominators to win many games in the group stage, they are as good if not better than all the other teams who share their seeding. Poor Ilmroosters.
I’ve gone back and forth on predictions. The Ex-Pads have a nasty habit of starting this tournament slowly and losing their first game. If that continues, they’ll most likely find themselves in a must-win showdown with Taureux. I can also envision the top three all finishing with one loss and it coming down to points difference. An opener of Knights Ex-Pads could easily determine who advances. This one will be tight.
Dutch Lions (Netherlands)
Team Mexico (Mexico)
Moscow Tough Nuts (Russia)
Berlin United 5 (Germany)
Coventry Cougars (UK)
So you know how I just said Group C might be the toughest in the tournament? Well Group D is every bit as tough. By my count, four teams can really compete for one of the top two places and it promises to be a battle. The Dutch Lions are a household name in European Flag, advancing to the top knockout stage in every Big Bowl they’ve played in. Moscow Tough Nuts have a strong history at Big Bowl as well and while they only finished third in a tough group last year, they won all their Sunday games to finish 17th as champions of the middle knockout bracket. Team Mexico is a tough one to peg. Their top team are absolute world beaters and would be odds-on favorites to win the title should they show up.
However, with Battle Orlando taking place the same weekend, we bet the Mexican program will elect to bring a younger less experienced squad akin to what they did at Pink Bowl last year. Mind you, that team took 5th at Pink Bowl behind their signature trickery and lightning speed. Regardless of who shows up, the Mexican team will prove a stiff test. Finally, a team I find to be a bit underseeded is the Coventry Cougars. While they haven’t produced great results at Big Bowl in the past, the club’s strength is it’s youth program, who last year won the UK national championship. These kids are getting older and bigger and dare I say, are no more kids but young men. They may be a year away from competing with the big boys yet but if the Cougars roll with their youth, I expect them to make some noise and impress this year.